MLB 2K11 Demo Impressions

Posted March 3rd, 2011 at 4:00 pm

The demo for MLB 2K11 released earlier this week and has been met with mildly positive though somewhat indifferent reactions. With some hope still of locating a copy of the game for full coverage to take place over the weekend here are some brief thoughts that come from spending time with the demo and accompanying videos.

It is unfortunate that 2K Sports continues to put out bare bones demos that don’t properly represent the final product. In the case of MLB 2K11 the demo is three innings which is sufficient, however it lacks the options to change practically anything such as the difficulty level, controls, or camera angles. Even more notably it has stripped out the commentary which, as one of the few advantages it has over the competition, really makes the game come across flatter than it would otherwise.

Based on the demo it appears that MLB 2K11 is going to be a fun game that is simply rough around the edges. What is disappointing about that is the very same description could be placed on MLB 2K10 as well. There aren’t any real drastic changes on display in the demo with the improvements being much more subtle. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable however.

The new camera angle once the ball is hit into play is great for the most part, as it avoids giving an immediate indication of what the outcome is going to be. On the downside that makes it difficult to judge and make decisions on when the ball is immediately lost. It may bring about situations where base running errors are made. Auto-replays continue to be a strength of the 2K series however as they have been sped up and in doing so are now awkward to watch. That is better than playing them in slow motion however where the urge is to always skip them. Hit variety also seems to be quite good which year-to-year is something that baseball games generally struggle with representing well.

The framerate has been problematic at times primarily dropping in situations of high pop-ups in the infield, but there are other area it rears its head as well. Certainly these instances are more in the way of annoyance than altering the results of the play and from all reports the framerate is not an issue in the final game so it may just be isolated to the demo. Still with the 2K series having a history of framerate problems even seeing it in the demo is sure to create concern.

The variable strike zones are a much needed improvement for the series which has trended to having too much control for pitchers and predictable ball and strike calls. That may very well have contributed to the CPU having the tendency to swing at pitches early in the count. Thankfully that has changed and there have been borderline pitches being called either way, balls quite a bit outside the zone being called strikes, and so on. I’m also impressed with the CPU’s willingness to go after pitches outside the zone. In one memorable at bat I had Adrian Beltre to two strikes and was trying to get him to chase some pitches. He fouled a few off before swinging at a fastball up and out of the zone for a chopper to the shortstop.

The CPU has made some really questionable decisions in player management. The AI is probably acting as though the innings being played are the 7th-9th but still many of the decisions have been head scratchers. There have been some odd choices made when it comes to situational pitcher substitutions, pinch hitters, intentional walks, and times where they have dropped down bunts.

What I’ve identified as the most disappointing aspect of 2K11 so far comes with the fielding which is surprising given how that was the focus of improvement for 2K11. While the actual fielding does deliver the promised improvements the AI controlled players in the field lack a certain hustle. There have been plays where my fielders just jogged towards the ball or gave up on it early and in turn allowed a hit. A few examples of that include bunts where the catcher or third baseman didn’t charge the ball and left it for the pitcher instead and the shortstop jogging after a ground ball that would eventually get past him. In general the AI controlled players tend to leave plays to the pitcher when they should be the ones responsible for making the play.

There seems to be a huge issue with players interacting with the barriers throughout the stadium. There have been several reports of players warping through outfield walls and making catches with the game recording that as both a home run and an out. There also have been instances of the game freezing (one instance captured in the video below). Both could be related to the wall climb feature but that is difficult to determine under the current circumstances. The concern would be more about the catches being made beyond the outfield wall though as the freezing could just be isolated to the demo.

The demo for MLB 2K11 has shown the game to be what it was expected to be…a potentially quite fun but far from exceptional baseball game. There are elements that work really well but coming across AI issues and major glitches within a three inning demo is not a great sign for how it will hold up long term. Still there is some promise to be had here and at least as an alternative in the market looks to have finally taken its place as an acceptable product worthy of consideration.